A Decade of Over-parenting

For the past several months I’ve been informally polling groups of parents about the most significant parenting developments in the last decade.

The responses varied wildly, but one thing parents kept coming back to – the propensity for us to “over-parent,” creating a generation of so-called “helicopter parents.”

The phrase is apt: we hover over our kids and when the conflicts of life get a little too much for them, we descend, unleashing the unrelenting power of our parental artillery.

We over-schedule their activities, harass their teachers, choose their organic-only diet and make sure they are speaking Mandarin by age 4.

Only in America would we possibly hurt our kids by being too good, but the fact remains, most experts claim that kids get stronger, get better self-esteem, by learning how to do things for themselves. And unstructured family time is much more rewarding than all the activities in which kids are enrolled.

Of course, “over-parenting” wasn’t the only significant parenting issue to come to the forefront over the last decade. Here is my Top 10 list, compiled not by scientific research, but empirical data and asking the experts: parents.

In descending order:


10) H1N1 fears – Nothing caused us to wash our kids’ hands – and our own – more than the arrival of this potentially deadly flu. It also impacted schools’ absentee policies, teacher’s sick leaves and even shut down schools altogether. Luckily, a vaccine was hastily developed.


9) Vaccine chaos – Speaking of vaccines, this was the decade many parents just said “no” to “regular” childhood shots, out of misguided fears that they might cause some type of autism.


8) Holding kids back from kindergarten – This movement to hold younger 5-year-olds – especially boys – out from Kindergarten for a year is a form of developmental schooling. Many schools don’t have the resources to teach kids of wildly varying abilities. Many kids are not ready for rigors of Kindergarten, especially now that Kindergarten is the new First Grade.


7) The special-needs need – Autism rates are soaring, and now more than ever, public and private schools have to address the array of learning disabilities among students. It is a vital need that puts a huge burden on district budgets. The next 10 years will be all about learning to pay for these services.


6) Childhood obesity and how we’re fighting it – This very real epidemic – caused in part by unhealthy foods and sedentary lifestyles (videogames, anyone?) – is having devastating effects on a generation. However, it has also spawned a revolution of nutrition awareness, including healthy lunch programs, school salad bars and learning gardens.


5) School funding and subsequent parent involvement – In the past 10 years, more than ever, parents have been asked to step up and save their schools. A severe recession and unprecedented budget crisis in California have decimated schools’ coffers. Through simple volunteer efforts, parcel taxes, private schools and foundations, parents have had to take responsibility for paying for their children’s education.


4) Food allergies – The 00s were the decade tree nuts and other food allergies ate up simple foods. Whatever happened to a simple P B & J sandwich? Chances are, you won’t be seeing many at playgrounds and schools.


3) The rise of the media parent – Octomom, Jon and Kate, Balloon Boy…it seems as if the paparazzi has discovered parenting, and in turn, some parents have discovered the power of the media spotlight. But who are the ones who suffer?


2) Technology – From video games to cell phones, texting to Facebook, it’s clear that today’s kids are wired. It’s up to parents to learn as much as they can about their kids’ toys, and keep children safe. Cyber safety should be as much as concern today as combating bullying was in the 1990s.


1) Over-parenting – Take a break from structured activities and take your kids to a movie instead. Time with mom and dad may seem old fashioned, but it might save the 21st century.


– Peggy Spear

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